A week ago in France, reigning Olympic champion Ben Maher said “It would always be nice to have a second go!” after finishing third in the CSI5*-W Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ Lyon with Dallas Vegas Batilly.
On Sunday, he got his chance.
Contesting the fourth leg Western European League in Verona, Italy, the British rider had the advantage of a late draw in the eight-horse jump off—and this time, he didn’t let victory slip from his grasp.
European champion Steve Guerdat (SUI) set a scorching standard around Uliano Vezzani’s twisting short course, triggering the timers in 37.60 seconds with Venard de Cerisy. Their time looked all but unbeatable until Maher, second last to go, found a 0.15 seconds quicker pace on his 10-year-old mare.
When Martin Fuchs, the final rider to return, had a fence down with Conner Jei, Maher’s victory was assured. Belgium’s Nicola Philippaerts took third on Katanga v/h Dingeshof in 39 second flat.
“It was a very difficult jump-off, you had to ride the right lines to make it smooth and fast and Dallas gave everything to me today, she was really fighting for me and everything went my way. She was incredible!” Maher said.
Jumping Verona is held within the world’s biggest horse fair, the Fieracavalli, and event that attracted over 130,000 visitors for its 125th anniversary. With that massive crowd comes massive atmosphere—and considerable volume in the warm-up ring and arena. Maher feared the noise might un-nerve his 10-year-old mare ahead of the jump-off.
“I stayed in the quieter warm-up because she’s very sensitive. I warmed up early so I could get to watch Steve, and I picked the right one to watch!” he said. “My horse—a little bit like Steve’s—she lands, she turns, and everything went my way today but it was so very close!”
The victory is Maher’s second five star Grand Prix title with Dallas this year. In August, the pair also won the CSIO5* Rolex Grand Prix in Brussels. Their growing resume comes as no surprise when you look at their Jumpr App stats. Maher and Dallas jump clear at a 50% clip at both 1.55m and 1.60m. At 1.50m, it jumps to 86%.
“We have her for a little over one year now. I am very fortunate with my owners and sponsors who are very supportive. I had a few upcoming horses, but we felt I needed one more horse ready for the big classes so we got her and it took me some time to get to know her well. She’s great, but she likes to be the boss and for me to be the passenger!” he continued.
After round 4 of 14-leg series, Maher has moved into third place on the Western European League leaderboard on 35 points, behind Germany’s Rene Dittmer (42 points) and Ireland’s Richard Howley (40 points). With seven of a rider’s World Cup results counting toward their score, he’s on track to claim a qualifying spot for the 2024 World Cup Final in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia next April.
For the immediate future, though, he’s taking the win with the mare in stride.
“I will just enjoy today first,” said Maher. “I have learned over the years to enjoy the wins, because in this sport you lose more than you win!”
The Western European League moves to Stuttgart, Germany for round 5 November 19, 2023.